I’ve noticed that whenever critics compile their lists of best comic to film translations they always neglect American Splendor. X-Men, Superman, Batman, Spider-man… these are all well known comic icons who successfully made the transition to the big screen. Harvey Pekar’s highly personal autobiographical cult comics don’t have the mainstream built-in audience that DC and Marvel characters have. That doesn’t change the fact that this movie is one of the best comic translations ever.
Harvey Pekar wrote about himself and his life, and you relate to him because he is real. Different artists drew his stories, and drew him because he was the main character. Different people depicted him in many different ways throughout his comics. The film captures that by having multiple actors and illustrations, as well as the real life counterparts playing themselves. The overall effect seems like it would be jarring and confusing, but it works extremely well and captures the feel of the comics. You don’t even need to have read them, because the art and stories are all interwoven through the whole film. By the end you know his type of humor and appreciate his art. You might even buy one of his books.
Paul Giamatti stars as Harvey Pekar, but Pekar also makes appearances as himself. His wife and friends also make appearances as well as have actors portraying them. Harvey deals with his mundane and often depressing life in a humorous way. His comics deal with everything from choosing which line to wait in at the grocery store to experiencing painful chemotherapy treatments.
It is a great experience. It is funny, heartfelt and real. Harvey Pekar lived an incredibly fascinating, incredibly ordinary life. And it was a privilege to experience a glimpse of it. Take the time and check out this movie if you haven’t yet.
Critically Rated at 15/17